Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Development authority urged

Council measure seeks review of city's efforts

By Gregory Korte gkorte@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two City Council Democrats asked for a broad review of Cincinnati's economic development efforts Monday, calling for an independent development au thority and an end to red tape.

        Noting a decadelong decline in population, a loss of jobs and business establishments, and stagnant salaries, John Cranley and David Pepper want the mayor to ap point a panel of business leaders under the direction of the city manager.

        Their mission: help figure out how to spark economic growth.

        But the councilmen also want to add regulations that they say would make a more “fair, open and inclusive process” for bidding on taxpayer-financed projects. That led Republican critics to charge that the council men are adding costly regulations at the same time that they're pretending to eliminate them.

        Indeed, the plan — introduced and passed in the Finance Committee on Monday and scheduled for a vote of the full council Wednesday — is getting criticism from both ends of the political spectrum.

        Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, a Democrat, called it “deja vu” and “a game of peek-a-boo.”

        The independent development authority, she said, sounds a lot like the controversial proposal in 2000 to revamp economic development.

        After months of debate, City Council approved using the Port Authority, a mechanism many major cities have to focus development efforts. But the council also greatly limited the authority's independence, stripping power to issue bonds and take property by eminent domain.

        So far, the Port Authority hasn't shown it can be trusted with economic development decisions away from the riverfront, Ms. Reece said.

        “I don't want to be part of any smoke screen for an independent development authority,” she said.

        Republican Pat DeWine opposes the proposal for different reasons. He called it “a wolf in sheep's clothing” that would add “onerous new regulations” without public input.

        The proposal would require any project receiving more than $250,000 and 25 percent of its funding from the city to use a competitive bidding process.

        And it would refine a 13-year-old city policy by requiring that developers meet with trade unions and minority contractors before awarding bids. Developers would be required to file a written report with the city detailing those meetings.

        Mr. DeWine blasted plans to call for a vote on the proposal Wednesday.

        “We're ready to pass something today that's been crafted in secret with the help of labor unions, and without broad public input,” he said.

        Mr. Cranley said people who just want to remodel a home or expand a business are getting caught in the city's permit process. That's inexcusable, he said.

        But when public money is involved, the rules change, he said.

        “We hope this is going to set a tone that will massage the concerns a lot of people have with public-private partnerships,” he said. "

        Despite the opposition, the plan may have enough support on City Council to pass. David Crowley, a liberal Democrat, pledged his support after the sponsors agreed not to bind the new task force with any preconceived notions of what it ought to recommend.

Text of development motion

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